Gins­burg, 86, treated for can­cer­ous tu­mor

No ev­i­dence dis­ease re­main­ing in pan­creas, Supreme Court says

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By Jes­sica Gresko and Mar­i­lynn Mar­chione

WASH­ING­TON — Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg has com­pleted ra­di­a­tion ther­apy for a can­cer­ous tu­mor on her pan­creas and there is no ev­i­dence of the dis­ease re­main­ing, the Supreme Court said Fri­day.

It is the fourth time the 86-year-old jus­tice has an­nounced that she has been treated for can­cer over the last two decades and fol­lows lung can­cer surgery in De­cem­ber that kept her away from the court for weeks. De­cem­ber’s surgery was her first ill­ness-re­lated ab­sence from the court since be­ing ap­pointed by Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton in 1993 and prompted even closer at­ten­tion to her health.

As the court’s old­est mem­ber, Gins­burg has been asked ques­tions for years about her health and re­tire­ment plans. She has also in re­cent years at­tracted par­tic­u­larly en­thu­si­as­tic fans as the leader of the lib­eral wing of the court, which in­cludes four mem­bers ap­pointed by Demo­cratic pres­i­dents and five by Repub­li­cans.

Both lib­er­als and con­ser­va­tives watch her health closely be­cause it’s un­der­stood the court would shift right for decades if Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump were to get the abil­ity to nom­i­nate some­one to re­place her.

The court kept Gins­burg’s lat­est can­cer se­cret for three weeks, un­til she fin­ished ra­di­a­tion treat­ment. Yet there is no obli­ga­tion for jus­tices to dis­close de­tails about their health, and Gins­burg has made more in­for­ma­tion avail­able than some of her col­leagues.

Re­tired Jus­tice An­thony Kennedy had a stent in­serted to open a blocked artery in 2005, but the pub­lic only learned about it 10 months later when he re­turned to the hospi­tal to have it re­placed.

The Supreme Court said in a state­ment Fri­day that a rou­tine blood test led to the de­tec­tion of Gins­burg’s tu­mor. A biopsy per­formed July 31 con­firmed a “lo­cal­ized ma­lig­nant tu­mor,” and Gins­burg started out­pa­tient ra­di­a­tion ther­apy Aug. 5. Gins­burg un­der­went three weeks of ra­di­a­tion ther­apy and as part of her treat­ment had a bile duct stent placed, the court said. Gins­burg “tol­er­ated treat­ment well” and does not need any ad­di­tional treat­ment but will con­tinue to have pe­ri­odic blood tests and scans, the state­ment said.

The tu­mor was “treated defini­tively and there is no ev­i­dence of dis­ease else­where in the body,” the court said.

The state­ment did not say if the new tu­mor is a re­cur­rence of the pan­cre­atic can­cer Gins­burg was di­ag­nosed with in 2009, or a new can­cer that arose. She was also treated for col­orec­tal can­cer in 1999.

“It’s cer­tainly not un­heard of for the can­cer to come back,” but it’s a more dire sit­u­a­tion if it’s that rather than a new tu­mor that was found early enough for ef­fec­tive treat­ment, said Dr. Michael Pish­va­ian, a pan­cre­atic spe­cial­ist at the Univer­sity of Texas MD An­der­son Can­cer Cen­ter who had no first-hand knowl­edge of Gins­burg’s care.

Pan­cre­atic tu­mors are usu­ally treated with surgery, but she or her doc­tors may have cho­sen not to do that for var­i­ous rea­sons, and ra­di­a­tion is a stan­dard treat­ment if surgery is not done, Pish­va­ian said.

Dr. Alan Venook, a Univer­sity of California, San Fran­cisco, pan­cre­atic can­cer spe­cial­ist who also has no di­rect knowl­edge of Gins­burg’s case, said it’s not pos­si­ble to know much about her outlook with­out de­tails from her doc­tors.

If it is a re­cur­rence that took a decade to form, “that tells me it’s not a very ag­gres­sive can­cer,” he said. If the can­cer is limited to the pan­creas, “it could have been man­aged per­fectly well with ra­di­a­tion,” he said.

The court said Gins­burg can­celed an an­nual sum­mer visit to Santa Fe, New Mex­ico, but main­tained an ac­tive sched­ule dur­ing treat­ment. She is sched­uled to speak in Buf­falo next week and at the Li­brary of Congress Na­tional Book Fes­ti­val at the end of Au­gust.

Be­fore Fri­day’s an­nounce­ment, Gins­burg’s most re­cent known health scare was in De­cem­ber, when she had surgery for lung can­cer. The can­cer­ous growths were found when Gins­burg un­der­went med­i­cal tests af­ter she fell in her court of­fice and broke three ribs in Novem­ber.

Gins­burg was ab­sent from the court in Jan­uary as she re­cov­ered from surgery and missed six days on which the court heard 11 ar­gu­ments. But she re­turned to the bench in Fe­bru­ary, and par­tic­i­pated in work dur­ing her ab­sence.


Ruth Bader Gins­burg, the court’s old­est jus­tice, has been treated for can­cer four times.

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